How to keep employees from wasting time

The same technology that can help employees work more effectively is distracting them from their jobs.

Internet use not associated with work duties is the most common cause of employees’ frittering away their time in the workplace, a new survey shows.

Thirty-two per cent of more than 2,100 US CFOs surveyed by staffing consultant Robert Half Management Resources said non-business-related internet use – including social media – is the biggest time-waster at work for employees.

Employees chatting and socialising – cited by 27% of CFOs – ranked second among time-wasting activities, and personal calls or emails (20%) was the third-most commonly cited misuse of time.

“Chatting with co-workers and attending to personal activities during breaks at the office are acceptable within reason,” Paul McDonald, Robert Half senior executive director, said in a news release. “Balancing professional and personal obligations often requires completing non-work tasks during business hours. But too many distractions can detract from individual and team productivity.”

Many employees fall prey to these distractions every day. Greater than two-thirds (69%) of the more than 1,000 workers surveyed by in 2013 said they waste time at work every day. That was an increase from 64% in 2012. More than one-third (35%) said they waste at least one hour a day while at work.

Meanwhile, global labour productivity growth – measured as the average change in output per person employed – has slowed in each of the last three years, according to global business membership and research association The Conference Board.

Global labour productivity growth was 3.9% in 2010, 2.6% in 2011, 1.8% in 2012, and 1.7% in 2013, according to The Conference Board.

JoDee Curtis, CPA, an Indianapolis-based human resources consultant with Purple Ink LLC, said in an interview that she doesn’t blame technology for time wasted at work.

“People that want to waste time are going to waste time,” she said. “I tell my kids, when I was in school, we used to pass notes to each other [during class]. Now they text each other.”

Curtis provided the following tips to employers and employees for reducing wasted time in the workplace:

  • Keep employees engaged. Workers who have enough assignments that challenge and excite them are less inclined to waste time, Curtis said. She said it’s a good idea to seek feedback from employees on the types of tasks that interest them.
  • Have employees track their time for a day. They may find that the 15 minutes they thought they were spending on Facebook at work really was 45 minutes, Curtis said. Their conversations with co-workers also may be longer than they thought.
  • Encourage productive use of social media. Following organisations on Twitter that are related to their jobs can help educate employees, Curtis said, so that even their off-task internet use can be productive.
  • Do not block Facebook on office computers. Employees who want to use Facebook to waste time simply will turn to their smartphones instead, and possibly be even less productive than before, Curtis said.

While workplace chatter can be distracting, Curtis said a certain amount of conversation in the workplace can help build relationships that will make a business more productive.

“People are more engaged in their work and want to come and be a part of the work environment when they have friends [at work],” she said. “… Obviously we can’t stand around all day talking, but I do think there is some value in creating relationships and people getting to know each other.”

Ken Tysiac ( is a CGMA Magazine senior editor.